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Socio-political perception of ShĪʿa Islam in Azerbaijan: the influence of external factors

Araks Pashayan and Nazeli Navasardyan

vol. XI(2)

Pages 40-54

Abstract: The aim of the article is to reveal the changes in socio-political perception of Shīʿa Islam in Azerbaijan by the ruling secular and religious elites, on the one hand, and some circles of the society, on the other hand, as well as to highlight the impact of external factor on the process. The analysis of state-religious relations, the gradual reinforcing of legal regulation of religious activities, and the role of "official Shīʿa Islam" in the state-building process are the objectives of the article.

The article argues that the political elite of Azerbaijan, with the support of the religious establishment, institutionally employed the notion of "secularized Shīʿa Islam" as a part of the official interpretation of "Azerbaijani Islam" in shaping national identity, presenting "official Islam" as a key component of the history and culture of the state. The government’s autocratic efforts in preventing foreign religious, particularly Iranian influence are intended to preserve Alievs' authoritarian regime. However, the government failed to completely eradicate the religious and political influence of Iran in Azerbaijan. The state's efforts to institutionalize "Azerbaijani Islam" or "traditional Islam" and neutralize Iranian religious influence remain one of the most painful issues of the authoritarian Azerbaijani regime. There are many circles in Azerbaijani society that adhere to the underground interpretation of Iranian Shiite Islam. Accordingly, there are different approaches to Shīʿa Islam that are incompatible with each other. A special contribution of the article is conceptualizing the state’s antagonistic approach towards Shīʿa religious and civil activism in the country in the most compelling way.

Keywords: Azerbaijan, Shīʿa Islam, "official Islam", Iran, religion, religious identity, religious servant, law, repression, restriction.

Pashayan Araks and Navasardyan Nazeli
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